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Khwaja Yunus Custodial Murder Case: Yunus’ Mother Asiya Begum Fights Legal Battle for 17 Years

Raju Vernekar | India Tomorrow

MUMBAI—While Mumbai police officer Sachin Vaze, accused of being responsible for the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus, has been arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the Ambani bomb scare case, Khwaja Yunus’ mother Asiya Begum(70), has been fighting alone legal battle seeking justice for the last 17 years.

Khwaja Yunus(27), a software engineer, a suspect on December 2, 2002, Ghatkopar bomb blast case, was arrested on December 24, 2002, from Chikhaldara in Amravati and was produced in the court on December 27, 2002. He was reported missing on January 7, 2003, after the police claimed that the vehicle that was ferrying him to Aurangabad for investigation, turned and he escaped from the vehicle. However, it was proved in the court that he died in police lock-up on January 7, 2003.

Habeas Corpus

Yunus’s father filed a writ petition under Habeas Corpus in the Bombay high court, when those who had seen Yunus earlier alive, testified that he was killed in the custody. As such the FIR filed against Yunus accusing him of escaping from custody was closed after the CID filed a charge sheet stating that he had been killed in custody. The Bombay High Court directed that an inquiry of 14 policemen be conducted by the CID. However, Maharashtra Government approved the inquiry only against Vaze and three constables. 

POTA

The CID completed its probe in the case in 2006. The state government sanctioned the prosecution of the accused in 2007. The four men, Waze and Constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai, and Rajaram Nikam were charged under Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code. They were booked under the now-repealed Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA)

In 2012, the Bombay High Court granted a compensation of Rs 17 lakh to Yunus’s family, noting that he was a “qualified and proficient engineer” who would have earned around Rs 10 crore spread over 34 years taking into account his salary and his age of retirement at 60. The High Court, however, rejected the family’s plea seeking to name seven other police officials as accused who were alleged to have assaulted Yunus, leading to his death. An appeal by his family against this order is pending before the Supreme Court.

CID filed the fresh FIR based on accused Dr. Abdul Mateen’s statement since the Bombay high court ordered CID to close the earlier FIR as it was found out to be fake. 

Three Public Prosecutors replaced

The trial which began on May 3, 2017, in the Mumbai Sessions Court, under the charges of conspiracy, destruction of evidence, and murder against the accused, is still pending since the three public prosecutors were replaced in the intervening period. While Public prosecutors-R B Mokashi and Yug Chaudhry resigned, the third prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar who was appointed in November 2015 was abruptly removed by the Maharashtra government on April 6, 2018.

The case commenced in 2017, with the first witness deposing on May 3, 2017. On that day, the case was adjourned after the accused sought compliance with a previous order about the case diary being submitted to the court. In January 2018, the witness continued with his deposition and told the court that he had seen four men assault Yunus. These men were not the ones who had been booked for ferrying Yunus and filing a false FIR, and who were already on trial.

Based on this testimony, special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar filed an application seeking to add the four policemen to the list of the four already standing trials. But Mirajkar was removed on April 6, 2018. However, Asiya Begum challenged the removal of Mirajkar in the Bombay High Court on June 30, 2018, and sought his reappointment. When the matter came up for hearing in the Bombay High Court, the bench comprising Justices R M Sawant and Revati Mohite Dere, directed Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to file a report in this regard and stayed the hearing in the Sessions court. 

Reinstatement

Vaze submitted his resignation from service in 2007. However, the resignation was not accepted and he returned to the force in 2020 after a 16-year hiatus. Similarly, three other policemen- Rajendra Tiwari, Rajaram Nikam, and Sunil Desai who were also accused in the same case, were reinstated via executive order on June 6, 2020, which revoked the suspension.

However, Asiya Begum sent a contempt notice to Maharashtra Government on June 13, 2020, challenging the reinstatement of Vaze. Now the petition filed seeking reappointment of Advocate Dhiraj Mirajkar by Asiya is expected to come up for hearing soon.

Advocate Mihir Desai representing Asiya Begum told this correspondent that the application will come up for hearing within the next 15 to 20 days and the demand for re-appointment of Public Prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar will be reiterated. Till such time the trial in the Sessions court will not move further. “We are also challenging reinstatement of Vaze since a trial against him is still underway”, he added.

Ghatkopar bomb blast

Two persons were killed and over 50 injured when a bomb went off in a BEST bus at Ghatkopar in northeast Mumbai on December 2, 2002. The Mumbai police had listed 29 accused in the case. However, they managed to arrest only 19. Of these, nine were discharged by the court for lack of evidence and one died in Hyderabad.

The prosecution received a setback when Dattatraya Shelkar – the conductor of the BEST bus Number 416 turned hostile. Similarly, some of the students of Sir J J Hospital’s boys’ hostel, where one of the accused Dr Abdul Mateen, a forensic expert was staying, also turned hostile. Nearly after 16 years one Irfan Qureshi was arrested by Gujarat ATS from Aurangabad on May 8, 2018. He was wanted in some other case but was also named in the Ghatkopar bomb blast case. The Ghatkopar explosion was the first in a series of bomb blasts that rocked the city in 2002 and 2003.

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